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QGIS 3D Tiles – thanks to Cesium Ecosystem Grant!

We’ve recently had the opportunity to implement a very exciting feature in QGIS 3.34 — the ability to load and view 3D content in the “Cesium 3D Tiles” format! This was a joint project with our (very talented!) partners at Lutra Consulting, and was made possible thanks to a generous ecosystem grant from the Cesium project.

Before we dive into all the details, let’s take a quick guided tour showcasing how Cesium 3D Tiles work inside QGIS:

What are 3D tiles?

Cesium 3D Tiles are an OGC standard data format where the content from a 3D scene is split up into multiple individual tiles. You can think of them a little like a 3D version of the vector tile format we’ve all come to rely upon. The 3D objects from the scene are stored in a generalized, simplified form for small-scale, “zoomed out” maps, and in more detailed, complex forms for when the map is zoomed in. This allows the scenes to be incredibly detailed, whilst still covering huge geographic regions (including the whole globe!) and remaining responsive and quick to download. Take a look at the incredible level of detail available in a Cesium 3D Tiles scene in the example below:

Where can you get 3D tile content?

If you’re lucky, your regional government or data custodians are already publishing 3D “digital twins” of your area. Cesium 3D Tiles are the standard way that these digital twin datasets are being published. Check your regional data portals and government open data hubs and see whether they’ve made any content available as 3D tiles. (For Australian users, there’s tons of great content available on the Terria platform!).

Alternatively, there’s many datasets available via the Cesium ion platform. This includes global 3D buildings based on OpenStreetMap data, and the entirety of Google’s photorealistic Google Earth tiles! We’ve published a Cesium ion QGIS plugin to complement the QGIS 3.34 release, which helps make it super-easy to directly load datasets from ion into your QGIS projects.

Lastly, users of the OpenDroneMap photogrammetry application will already have Cesium 3D Tiles datasets of their projects available, as 3D tiles are one of the standard outputs generated by OpenDroneMap.


So why exactly would you want to access Cesium 3D tiles within QGIS? Well, for a start, 3D Tiles datasets are intrinsically geospatial data. All the 3D content from these datasets are georeferenced and have accurate spatial information present. By loading a 3D tiles dataset into QGIS, you can easily overlay and compare 3D tile content to all your other standard spatial data formats (such as Shapefiles, Geopackages, raster layers, mesh datasets, WMS layers, etc…). They become just another layer of spatial information in your QGIS projects, and  you can utilise all the tools and capabilities you’re familiar with in QGIS for analysing spatial data along with these new data sources.

One large drawcard of adding a Cesium 3D Tile dataset to your QGIS project is that they make fantastic 3D basemaps. While QGIS has had good support for 3D maps for a number of years now, it has been tricky to create beautiful 3D content. That’s because all the standard spatial data formats tend to give generalised, “blocky” representations of objects in 3D. For example, you could use an extruded building footprint file to show buildings in a 3D map but they’ll all be colored as idealised solid blocks. In contrast, Cesium 3D Tiles are a perfect fit for a 3D basemap! They typically include photorealistic textures, and include all types of real-world features you’d expect to see in a 3D map — including buildings, trees, bridges, cliffsides, etc.

What next?

If you’re keen to learn even more about Cesium 3D Tiles in QGIS, you can check out the recent “QGIS Open Day” session we presented. In this session we cover all the details about 3D tiles and QGIS, and talk in depth about what’s possible in QGIS 3.34 and what may be coming in later releases.

Otherwise, grab the latest QGIS 3.34 and start playing…. you’ll quickly find that Cesium 3D Tiles are a fun and valuable addition to QGIS’ capabilities!

Our thanks go to Cesium and their ecosystem grant project for funding this work and making it possible.

QGIS Add to Felt Plugin – Phase 2

We have been continuing our work with the Flagship sponsor of QGISFelt to develop their QGIS Plugin – Add to Felt  that makes it even easier to share your maps and data on the web.

What is the ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin?

The ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin is a powerful tool that empowers users to export their QGIS projects and layers directly to a Felt web map. This update introduces two fantastic features:

  1. Single Layer Sharing: You can now share a single layer from your QGIS project to a Felt map. This means you have greater control over which specific data layers to share, allowing you to tailor your map precisely to your audience’s needs.
  2. Map Selection: With the updated plugin, you can choose which map on Felt to add your layer to – a new map, or an ongoing project. This flexibility simplifies your workflow and ensures that your data ends up in the right place.

Businesses that rely on QGIS love how these new features provide a seamless way to view and share results, ultimately allowing them to move more quickly and stay in sync:

“Felt helps us keep each other updated on what we’ve done, what we’ve modeled, how things are progressing.” – ICON Engineering

Why is this Update Important?

Web maps are invaluable tools for sharing data with a wider audience, be it colleagues, clients, or the public. They provide creators with the ability to control data visibility, display options, and audience access, all within an easily shareable digital format. However, creating web maps can be an arduous and complex task.

Here’s where the ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin update comes to the rescue:

1. Streamlining the Process: Creating web maps traditionally involves website development, data hosting, and map application development—tasks that require a diverse skill set. This complexity can be a significant barrier, especially for smaller operations with limited resources or budget constraints.

2. Felt Simplifies Web Mapping: Felt makes it effortless to create web maps, and share them as easily as you would a Google Doc or Sheet. Simply drag and drop your data, customize the symbology to your liking, and share the map with a link or by inviting collaborators. No need to send large data files or answer questions about the map’s data sources.

3. Integration with QGIS: Now, the ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin bridges the gap between QGIS and Felt. It seamlessly imports your QGIS data into Felt, eliminating the need for manual data transfers and reducing the complexity of web map creation.

In essence, the ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin update simplifies the process of sharing and collaborating on web maps. It empowers users to harness the full potential of web-based mapping, making it accessible to everyone, regardless of their technical expertise. The update makes it even easier to share progress updates or model re-run outputs without creating a new map, or sharing a new map link.

So, if you’re a QGIS user looking to enhance your map-sharing capabilities and streamline your workflow, make sure to take advantage of this fantastic update. Say goodbye to the complexities of web map creation and hello to effortless, data-rich web maps with Felt and the ‘Add to Felt’ QGIS Plugin.

How to install and upgrade

  • Open QGIS on your computer. You must have version 3.22 or later installed.
  • In the plugins tab, select Manage and Install Plugins.
  • Search for the ‘Add to Felt’ plugin, select and click Install Plugin.
  • Close the Plugins dialog. The Felt plugin toolbar will appear in your toolbar for use.
  • Sign into Felt and begin sharing your maps to the web.

If you want more features in this plugin, let us know or you’re interested in exploring how a QGIS plugin can make your service easily accessible to the millions of daily QGIS users, contact us to discuss how we can help!

Soar.Earth Digital Atlas QGIS Plugin

Soar banner

Growing up, I would spend hours lost in National Geographic maps. The feeling of discovering new regions and new ways to view the world was addictive! It’s this same feeling of discovery and exploration which has made me super excited about Soar’s Digital Atlas. Soar is the brainchild of Australian, Amir Farhand, and is fuelled by the talents of staff located across the globe to build a comprehensive digital atlas of the world’s maps and images. Soar has been designed to be an easy to use, expansive collection of diverse maps from all over the Earth. A great aspect of Soar is that it has implemented Strong Community Guidelines and moderation to ensure the maps are fit for purpose.

Recently, North Road collaborated with Soar to help facilitate their digital atlas goals by creating a QGIS plugin for Soar. The Soar plugin allows QGIS users to directly:

  • Export their QGIS maps and images straight to Soar
  • Browse and load maps from the entire Soar public catalogue into their QGIS projects

There’s lots of extra tweaks we’ve added to help make the plugin user friendly, whilst offering tons of functionality that power users want. For instance, users can:

  • Filter Soar maps by their current project extent and/or by category
  • Export raw or rendered raster data directly to Soar via a Processing tool
  • Batch upload multiple maps to Soar
  • Incorporate Soar map publishing into a Processing model or Python based workflow

Soar will be presenting their new plugin at the QGIS Open Day in August so check out the details here and tune in at 2300 AEST or 1300 HR UTC. You can follow along via either YouTube or Jitsi.

Browsing Soar maps from QGIS

One of the main goals of the Soar QGIS plugin was to make it very easy to find new datasets and add them to your QGIS projects. There’s two ways users can explore the Soar catalog from QGIS:

You can open the Soar Browser Panel via the Soar toolbar button  Soar browser . This opens a floating catalog browser panel which allows you to interactively search Soar’s content while working on your map.

Soar browser panel

Alternatively, you can also access the Soar catalog and maps from the standard QGIS Data Source Manager dialog. Just open the “Soar” tab and search away!

When you’ve found an interesting map, hit the “Add to Map” button and the map will be added as a new layer into your current project. After the layer is loaded you can freely modify the layer’s style (such as the opacity, colorization, contrast etc) just like any other raster dataset using the standard QGIS Layer Style controls.

Sharing your maps

Before you can share your maps on Soar, you’ll need to first sign up for a free Soar account.

We’ve designed the Soar plugin with two specific use cases in mind for sharing maps. The first use case is when you want to share an entire map (i.e. QGIS project) to Soar. This will publish all the visible content from your map onto Soar, including all the custom styling, labeling, decorations and other content you’ve carefully designed. To do this, just select the Project menu, Import/Export -> Export map to Soar option.

Upload via Project to Soar

You’ll have a chance to enter all the metadata and descriptive text explaining your map, and then the map will be rendered and uploaded directly to Soar.

Soar Metadata

All content on the Soar atlas is moderated, so your shared maps get added to the moderation queue ready for review by the Soar team. (You’ll be notified as soon as the review is complete and your map is publicly available).

Alternatively, you might have a specific raster layer which you want to publish on Soar. For instance, you’ve completed some flood modelling or vegetation analysis and want to share the outcome widely. To do this, you can use the “Publish dataset to Soar” tool available from the QGIS Processing toolbox:

Upload product to Soar via processing tools

Just pick the raster layer you want to upload, enter the metadata information, and let the plugin do the rest! Since this tool is made available through QGIS’ Processing framework, it also allows you to run it as a batch process (eg uploading a whole folder of raster data to Soar), or as a step in your QGIS Graphical Models!

Some helpful hints

All maps uploaded to Soar require the following information:

  • Map Title
  • Description
  • Tags
  • Categories
  • Permission to publish

This helps other users to find your maps with ease, and also gives the Soar moderation team the information required for their review process.

We’ve a few other tips to keep in mind to successfully share your maps on Soar:

  • The Soar catalog currently works with raster image formats including GeoTIFF / ECW / JP2 / JPEG / PNG
  • All data uploaded to Soar must be in the WGS84 Pseudo-Mercator (EPSG: 3857) projection
  • Check the size of your data before sharing it, as a large size dataset may take a long time to upload

So there you have it! So simple to start building up your contribution to Soar’s Digital Atlas. Those who might find this useful to upload maps include:

  • Community groups
  • Hobbyists
  • Building a cartographic/geospatial portfolio
  • Education/research
  • Contributing to world events (some of the biggest news agencies already use this service i.e. BBC)

You can find out more about the QGIS Soar plugin at the QGIS Open Day on August 23rd, 2023 at 2300 HR AEST or 1300 HR UTC. Check here for more information or to watch back after.

If you’re interested in exploring how a QGIS plugin can make your service easily accessible to the millions of daily QGIS users, contact us to discuss how we can help!

Cesium Ecosystem Grant Win for QGIS 3D Tiles!

Success! Lutra and North Road have been rewarded a Cesium Ecosystem Grant to provide access to 3D tiles within QGIS. We will be creating the ability for users to visualise 3D Tiles in QGIS alongside other standard geospatial sources in both 3D and 2D map views.
3D Tiles Cesium integration ecosystem diagram
3D Tiles Cesium integration ecosystem
We are very excited about it, but to be included in the first cohort of awardees is also an added honour! We share this distinction with 3 other recipients:
The opportunity was brought to our attention by our friends over at Nearmap, which, along with the existence of this grant, shows how the geospatial community is working together by evolving the Open Source Economy. A movement close to our hearts and our core business. Working between commercial software and open-source, Cesium’s business model recognises the legitimacy of Open Source Software for use as a geospatial standard operating procedure by promoting openness and interoperability.
Our team of Nyall Dawson and Martin Dobias will create a new layer type, QgsTiledMeshLayer, allowing for direct access to Cesium 3D tile sources alongside the other supported geospatial layer types within QGIS. This will include visualisation of the tile data in both 3D and 2D map views (feature footprints). It will fulfill a critical need for QGIS users, permitting access to 3d data provided by their respective government agencies to work alongside all their other standard geospatial layers (vector, raster, point clouds). By making 3D Tiles a first class citizen in QGIS we help strengthen the case that those agencies should be providing their data in the Cesium format (as opposed to any proprietary alternatives).
Proposed Technical Architecture Cesium QGIS
Proposed Technical Architecture for Cesium 3D Tiles in QGIS
Here’s a breakdown of what we will be doing:
  • Develop a new QGIS layer type “QgsTiledMeshLayer”
  • Develop a parser for 3D Tiles format, supporting Batched 3D Model (with a reasonable set of glTF 2.0 features)
  • Develop a 3D renderer which dynamically loads and displays features from 3D Tiles based on appropriate 3D view level of detail. (A similar approach has already been implemented in QGIS for optimised viewing of point cloud data).
  • Develop a 2D renderer for 3D Tiles, which will display the footprints of 3D tile features in 2D QGIS map views. Just like the 3D renderer, the 2D renderer will utilise map scale information to dynamically load 3D tiles and display a suitable level of detail for the footprints.
  • Users will have full control over the appearance of the 2D footprints, with support for all of QGIS’ extensive polygon symbology options.
  • By permitting users to view the 2D footprints of features, we will promote use of Cesium 3D Tiles as a suitable source of cartographic data, eg display of authoritative building footprints supplied by government agencies in the Cesium 3D Tile format.

Through past partnerships, North Road and Lutra Consulting have developed and extended the 3D mapping functionality of QGIS. To date, all the framework for mature, performant 3D scenes including vector, mesh, raster and point cloud sources are in place. We are now ready to extend the existing functionality with Cesium 3D tiles support as QGIS 3D engine already implements most of the required concepts, such as out of core rendering and hierarchical level of detail (tested with point clouds with billions of points).

So there we go! Working together collaboratively with Lutra Consulting on another great addition to QGIS 3D Functionality thanks to Cesium Ecosystem Grants. Stay tuned on our social channels to find out when it will be released in QGIS.

Cesium Ecosystem grant Badge


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